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Jackie Hope: The birdfeeder dilemmas

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We need help with an ethical dilemma. Is it right to continue to fill bird feeders during the summer? We’ve been stuffing those little pigs-with-wings, as well as those pigs-with-furry-tails — also known as ninja squirrels — all winter.

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Now that it is spring, sorta, there is stuff on the ground and in the shrubs for them to eat. Oh, right… the rabbits ate up the shrubs during the winter, and then they ate everything that spilled out of the bird feeders, too. They are long-eared-pigs-with-short-furry-tails. And amazing appetites.

Should we continue to be enablers? Or should we practice tough love?

The bird feeder in the garden is actually useful for more than just, well, feeding birds. See, it bounces around when the birds land on it. And it bounces around like crazy when the squirrels climb on it. And when it is full of sunflower seeds, and it gets bounced, it acts as a broadcast spreader, seeding the whole garden with sunflowers.

OK, they are short and scruffy sunflowers when they are fully grown. Not like those 8-foot tall giants we buy from fancy-schmancy seed companies located in exotic places, like South Dakota. But still, they are yellow, they turn their faces to the sun, and they grow up to produce more sunflower seeds. That’s pretty much a sunflower plant’s plot in life.

Can’t you just hear the mama sunflower talking to her seedling?

“Now, Sunny Boy, you drink your water and eat your nitrogen supplements, so you can grow up short and stout, like your daddy.” And Sunny Boy says, “Aw, but Ma, I don’t wanna hafta stare at the sun all day and photosynthesize. I’m-ma hang with those Canadian thistles and go blowin’ in the wind.” So Mama says, airily, “No. Your father hangs out with uncultivated weeds, and that really nettles me. You know what an oily character your father is.” “Geez, Louise, Ma. Our family is SO seedy.”

Back to spreading sunflower seeds. Bird feeders got that goin’ for them. But what if you have thistle seeds in your bird feeder? You know, those eensy needle-shaped black seeds that finches flip out over. They are also called niger/nyger seeds, in the hope that you won’t recognize them as thistles. At least until they sprout under your bird feeder, and you have a bazillion baby thistles growing. And several juvenile delinquent sunflower plants hanging with the thistles.

Thistle seeds are a double-edged problem, so to speak, because the seeds themselves are prickly little needles, and they spawn plants that are full of more prickly little needles. They are the downside — in addition to having their own downy sides — of bird feeders. No ethical dilemma about filling bird feeders with thistle seeds for the spring — just say, “No.”

Suet cakes. Doesn’t that sound like something from an English tea shop? But here’s what we’re talkin’: Those 6-by-6 hunks of grease, stuffed with a pound or two of birdseed. Guessing the seeds in suet cakes are too greasy to sprout, but the suet poses another slick problem in warm weather. It melts. It doesn’t just melt and run away, either. It melts into a puddle that looks like what could happen if a raven ralphs his lunch. ‘Nuf said. That image is gonna stick in your craw until next winter, and the sales of suet cakes will plummet. Because people will be chicken to buy them. Yes, we went there, so stop grousing.

But, on to our ethical dilemma. To fill or not to fill, that is the question. Like the question of whether to draw to an inside straight, it all depends on your ability to bluff. If you stuff your bird feeders with luscious gourmet seeds, can you convince the squirrels, as well as those grackles who have holding tanks as big as a B-52 Stratofortress, and appetites like Pac-Man, that your seeds are only good for finches and other mild-mannered songbirds?

Or do you have a “tell” that will announce to all the greediest birds and ninja squirrels that you have a scavengers’ smorgasbord just waiting for their fly-innings or belly-uppings?

I got a good poker face. Ain’t no grackle gonna get the best of me. I ain’t afraid of no squirrel. I’m filling the feeders and casting my fate to the wind. Wait, did I just see a squirrel run across the yard?

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